Former Times-Republican reporter and news editor Bryan Schultz announced that he is project manager for a national restaurant competition giving away a $153,000 restaurant startup package.
According to Schultz, Oskaloosa is looking for the perfect person to open and operate a new restaurant in and they're giving away nearly everything you need to get started in equipment, goods and services.
Oskaloosa was chosen by Iowa's Best Bite Restaurant Challenge, a nationwide online talent search that seeks to connect chefs with rural communities. Organizers said Monday that Oskaloosa was chosen over several other cities because of the city's investments in quality of life amenities, strong volunteer base and a proven location at the Oskaloosa Golf and former Dr. Salami's location
"This competition links awesome rural communities with talent that might not otherwise find them," Schultz said. "Rural economies can be very strong, it just sometimes takes some out-of-the-box promotion to get people to realize it."
The challenge encourages would-be restauranteurs to study this town of more than 11,000 people and submit their vision of the ideal restaurant, along with a detailed business plan. The contestants are narrowed down to a group of four who visit the city for in-person interviews. The final two contestants will present their vision and cook for a group of community judges, with the winner becoming the city's newest restauranteur.
"We chose Oskaloosa because of all the good things they are making happen here," Schultz said. "The community has developed an amazing quality of life with more than $100 million of reinvestment over the past decade. Combine that with the restaurant's location and such an impressive prize package and Oskaloosa was a perfect fit."
The new restaurant will join Oskaloosa Golf, an 18-hole public golf course with 5600 square feet of space for the Best Bite winner to develop. Organizers say the existing restaurant has long been popular in Oskaloosa, but locals had a very specific mission.
"They wanted a destination restaurant to match their destination golf course,'" Schultz said. "But just as important, they wanted the contest to top off a long string of community improvement efforts and announce Oskaloosa is open for business."
The prize package includes $40,000 in operating capital, $40,000 in kitchen equipment, six months of free rent, help with branding and accounting, and other items designed to make starting a new restaurant easier.
The deadline for entries is May 6, with the semifinals and finals to be held May 15 and 16.
"This is going to be very exciting for everyone," Schultz said. "The public gets to vote on online videos to send one contestant to the semifinals and Oskaloosa residents can even apply to be a tasting judge, so the public's input is huge."
This year marks the second year that Iowa marketing agency Art A La Carte has held the competition. Last year's contest was held in Grinnell, attracting more than 40 chefs from eight states. The winning concept, The Prairie Canary, is open and doing well, Schultz said.